I HAD planned to go all Johnny Cash and start this piece: “Am Faochagach, I hate every inch of you.”
You’d think the fact this sprawling mountain south of Ullapool was the final peak for my first ‘compleation’ would mean it had claimed a place in my heart forever.
Wrong. It has been my least favourite Munro since that first ascent in 2000. It may seem strange to hold a grudge against a mountain, and 17 years is a long time to hold a grudge, but it’s not just me. Seldom do you find a word from walkers in praise of ‘the heathery place’.
There’s that infamous river crossing, at best knee-deep, at worst a near impossible task.
On a day of deep, fresh snowfall, when we were heading for the Fannichs, we watched a group set off with naive enthusiasm towards the river. I was willing to take bets they would be back within ten minutes. They were, unable or unwilling to attempt a crossing of the swollen waters.
Then there’s the subsequent bog trot, a squelching, slipping, sliding, gradual uphill slog.
And finally, there’s the featureless push to a nondescript pile of stones on a flat plateau which provides guillotined views of far superior mountains like Beinn Dearg and Seana Bhraigh. It would seem to be the ultimate ‘Up Yours’ gesture from a hill green with envy at its more attractive neighbours.
Despite all this, I made my fourth ascent at the weekend. That’s the problem with Munro rounds: You have to take the rough with the smooth with the downright awful.
This will be the last time (sorry, now in Rolling Stones mode), but there were good reasons for this outing other than the pathetic need for a fourth-round tick. My friend Rebecca is closing in on her finish and this was one of the outstanding (that’s in the incomplete sense rather than the excellent) hills on her list.
Our group had planned a big weekend in the Mamores, but the depressing forecasts saw the proposed participants drop like flies, so we switched base to the Inverness area and headed out to salvage whatever we could. Am Faochagach was the only option. If it had to be tackled (it had), I was determined to try and make it as painless as possible.
That meant avoiding the river crossing and the bog trot by coming in from a different direction, so we crossed the Glascarnoch Dam to head along the shoreside track before going up on to the long ridge.
It was a good move. Suddenly, this mountain didn’t seem so bad after all. The higher-level approach meant we were accompanied by the Fannichs and An Teallach most of the way, topped off by an uninterrupted view into the heart of beautiful Coire Ghrannda. I was now seeing Am Faochagach in an entirely different light.
We stayed high on the way out, the reward being shafts of sunlight in the gathering cloud turning the loch into a glistening silver platter. Most importantly, we had stayed dry and had superb visibility in one of the few dry areas that day.
We weren’t so lucky the next day, though. The rain was pounding down everywhere, so we abandoned plans for the Cairngorms and looked for the least worst option so Rebecca could whittle her list down further. That proved to be the Lawers range. We would get wet, but we would be prepared and at least we would get wet for a much shorter period.
The drive down over the series of minor roads from the A9 to Lawers was stunning as always, but the rain and hanging layers of gauzy cloud seemed to bring a fresher beauty, the autumn shades morphing immaculately with the lush, dripping greenery. It was never as wet as we had expected over the high tops, but we were ambushed on the way out and arrived back at the car saturated.
The overall feeling was a relief that we had salvaged something out of two disrupted days and surprise on my part that Am Faochagach had been the star of the show.
So, to my former least liked mountain, I apologise. It’s taken 17 years but I have finally realised you may not be as bad as I had thought. Don’t count on seeing me again, though.